Today I wish I only had sixteen years rattling inside me like pennies in a tin Band-Aid box. If I was only sixteen, I’d still have hope, that youthful hope in love. That it was in the air, swirling around me. Or that it was lurking around that next city corner, waiting patiently for me amidst the bustling crowd, underneath the yellow awning of a candy shoppe. Or that it was dashing from door to door, searching for me. Just me.
When I was sixteen, love was waiting for me at a party. I’d already gotten into my pajamas on that Saturday night when Susan called and told me Robert was at this party and I needed to get there quickly. I’d loved Robert ever since we rode on the log ride together at the amusement park. He’d won me a pink teddy bear that night. I secretly gave him my heart.
So after hanging up with Susan, I dashed into hair, makeup, and cute clothes; somehow managed to convince my parents to let me go out at 9:30; and drove as safely fast as I could. I honestly don’t remember much of the evening other than the end. Robert walked me outside to my car that was parked on the street. We talked in that shy-looking-down-at-the-ground way that sixteen-year-olds do. He’d given me his sweatshirt to wear earlier, and I tried to give it back, but he told me to keep it. Then he walked me over to the driver’s side door, and I turned. He held my arms, leaned down, and we shakily (or maybe the earthquake was just in my bones) had our first kiss.
I drove home in a daze.
Months later, we broke up. We sat side-by-side on my driveway under a moonless sky, and he broke my heart. I’m sure there was no moon because I remember how it felt like my whole world had gone as dark as the sky. I cried and cried later that night as I sat in front of my boom box and listened to The Smiths “I Know It’s Over” over and over and over.
But the thing about being sixteen is that once the tears dried up, hope always bloomed in my heart. There was always another cute football player to watch or that one kid in English whom I’d never noticed before. And there was always a friend to suggest cute boys and to set up the secret spy network that would somehow help me land that cute boy. There were definitely cute boys after Robert.
And the thing about being not-sixteen–or sixteen plus a lot more years–is that there is no hope blooming in my heart. And there are no friends suggesting boys or laying down secret spy trails to help me. I don’t know what people think–that my life is some big party? that I like being alone? that it’s fun not to ever have someone else to make the coffee? Or maybe they’re just not thinking of me at all.
Because that’s the thing about being not-sixteen. We’re not all in the same boat anymore, and most people have rowed away. And they’re not looking back at the tiny speck that is me, adrift in my little wooden boat for one.
Today I am not sixteen. I’m twenty-one and twenty-six and thirty and thirty-three and a whole bunch of other ages, but I wish I was sixteen. Because if I were sixteen, my hope wouldn’t be a runaway red balloon, so far away that it’s nothing but a speck, a dot, so tiny tiny, I have to close my eyes to see it.
(This is entry one of Jane Ann McLachlan’s October Memoir and Backstory Blog Challenge. Check it out here. And thanks Jane for such a great idea!)